4/13/24 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Ailey II

By Walter Rutledge

Ailey II began their six-day, eight performance New York City season Tuesday, April 9th at the Joyce Theater. This season marked the fiftieth anniversary of the company, which has left an indelible mark on the Ailey organization and the dance world at large. The company is a dance finishing school, touring boot camp, and a choreographer’s laboratory for emerging dance makers and established choreographers.This year was no exception. Ailey II presented an ambitious program of new works, company stalwarts and Ailey classics. The result was a thoroughly entertaining evening of dance magic performed by the next generation gifted artists- a generation with endless possibilities. 

The evening opened with an excerpt from Judith Jamison’s Divining. The solo was performed by Maya Finman-Palmer whose statuesque physic, rock solid technique and subdued athleticism combined for a captivating performance. Her confident, commanding stage presence, plaint and responsive physique helped defined her powerful performance as what can only be described as Amazonian. Ju-Jam (a phrase Jamison used to describe her artistic blend of multiple styles and disciplines) is alive and well; and dancing in Ailey II.

Leonardo da Vinci’s understood “Simplicity it the ultimate elegance” and it has always been one of the cornerstones defining accolades to Alvin Ailey. When you have an opportunity to experience his work it is always inspiring and insightful- a true masterclass in form and design. The master of choreographic geometry, his work is visually fulfilling no matter where you are seated- orchestra or fourth mezzanine. His choreography is never just linear or stagnant it’s always moving. 

The Ailey Classic excerpts were a welcomed glimpse into the “ultimately elegant genius” of the company’s founder.  The Blues Suite (1958) excerpts Mean Ol’ Frisco and House of The Rising Sun were both stellar interpretations by the company. Mean Ol’ Frisco, projected the tour de force male bravura that has become synonymous with Ailey men and House of the Rising Sun danced by Maya Finman-Palmer, Tamia Strickland, and Maggy van den Heuvel was powerfully poignant.

The Lark Ascending excerpt (1972) is another example of Ailey’s choreographic range and prowess. The lyric and almost delicate approach create a living breathing tone poem, that is lovingly enveloped in Ralph Vaughn Williams’ impressionist score. Kali Marie Oliver’s performance was both impassioned and ethereal. Dancer noble Andrew Bryant framed his partner like a platinum setting around a brilliant stone.

Ailey Dancer Emeritus Dudley Williams shared a story about the creation of a plotless ballet. He said the dancers asked Ailey would he create an abstract, plotless ballet for the company; the result was Streams (1970). The team of Masazumi Chaya, Linda Kent, Renee Robison and Kanji Siegawa did an exemplary job recreating this masterwork, capturing the ballet’s raw kinesthetic power. Dancers Patrick Gamble and Spencer Everett were both standouts throughout but really got to shine in the Lamentoso section.

The excerpt from Enemy In The Figure was the evening’s most exhilarating work. Choreographer William Forsythe is enjoying a renewed interest in his work amongst many New York based companies. This is the third NYC company presenting his work during the 2023-24 New York season. Over the past three seasons Ailey II has grown into this high energy ensemble work and excels in this fast-paced ballet, which requires both sustained lines and an articulate crystalline attack.

John 4:20 offered the most different approach relying on more earthbound and gesture driven movement and less on a traditional technical vocabulary. Choreographers Baye and Asa offered an urban and ethnic based work that was refreshing, and at times visually beguiling. The work opened with clever couplings producing varied abstract scenarios evoking both same sex (male and female) and hetero encounters. Unfortunately, the ballet meandered, and the puzzling incorporation of traditional lines and phrases late in the work detracted from the ballet’s unique and individual message.

The evening closed with Luminous by Ailey II Artistic Director Francesca Harper. Luminous is a tribute to the 50 year/Golden anniversary of the company and it is also a declaration to the world events that helped define Ailey’s vision of bring dance to the masses. The ensemble work takes us back to an America in flux, ripe with civil disobedience and hungry for change.

This abstract narrative concludes on a contemplative/introspective note as we are lead down a path (diagonally from downstage right to upstage left) to the future by the people and events of the past. The works final image/statement are both profound and prophetic considering our present social/political climate.

The evening was dedicated to Ailey II Artistic Director Emeritus Sylvia Waters. She was handpicked by Alvin Ailey to direct and develop an ensemble of young performers who could continue his mission of bringing dance to the people. Her 38-year commitment to Ailey II is a testament to her loving and nurturing spirit, which has helped guide the careers of countless performers.

In an Out and About NYC Magazine interview with Waters prior to her retirement as Ailey II artistic director she shared with us one of the many traits of Ailey’s she admired. Waters marveled at his innate ability to create and arrange a great program/program order. Clearly a quality she strived at perfecting herself throughout her Ailey II tenure.

This is one point of contention we found with the performance. Harper’s work, Luminous, would have been better suited to open the program due to the heavy theme and its reflective quality. While Forsythe’s Enemy In The Figure would have ended the evening on a more energetic note.  This is a skill set we are convinced will evolve over time.

The 2024 New York City Ailey II season showcases the best of modern dance. With exceptionally talented dancers, provocative choreography, focused direction and a dance pedigree par none the company continues to inspire the next generation of dancers and balletomanes.  The season runs through Sunday April 14th if you haven’t gotten tickets yet you need to visit Joyce.org quickly. The Tuesday opening night performance was SRO (standing room only).

About OutandAboutnycmag

Out & About NYC Magazine was founded to offer the arts and lifestyle enthusiast a fresh new look at New York City. We will showcase the established and the emerging, the traditional and the trendy. And we will do it with élan, and panache with a dash of fun.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *